Bidston Observatory

Focus Point 8 on the Heritage Trail

Observatory & Lighthouse

Observatory & Lighthouse

This beautiful grade-II listed building sits proudly on the ridge of the hill watching over the Windmill, Park Wood and Bidston Village. It is visible from both Wales and Liverpool.

The Observatory was built in 1866 when Liverpool Observatory had to relocate due to the expansion of Waterloo Docks. The building was made using the stone mined during the creation of the cellars, the deepest of which (36 feet or 10.97 meters) maintains a constant cool temperature. Over the last 140 years the Observatory has undertaken a diversity of tasks, many of ground-breaking importance.

At the turn of 1929, the Observatory and the Tidal Institute were amalgamated. Under the direction of Joseph Proudman, Arthur Doodson became the leading authority on tidal predictions. Bidston Observatory was deemed of national importance during the Second World War and predicted the tides for the D-Day landings amongst other things. In 1969, the telescopes housed in the observatory, which were previously used to watch planetary bodies in order to calculate the exact time, were donated to Liverpool museum. The exact time was needed for nautical navigation and was transferred to ships in the dock by the firing of the one o’clock gun; the gun was fired for the last time on the 18th of July 1969.

1909 - cannon at Morpeth Dock

1909 – cannon at Morpeth Dock

2004: still at Morpeth Dock

2004: still at Morpeth Dock

1969 was also the year that the Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory became an independent institute under NERC.

The Joseph Proudman Building was built during the 1970s to accommodate the Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory’s growing staff and the new computer mainframe. It was formally opened in 1979, and named in honour of Joseph Proudman (1888-1975), one of the directors. This forbidding example of cold-war architecture has been compared to an ocean liner beached on the hill. After a failed attempt to have the building Grade-II listed, the demolition of the building commenced in November, 2012.

In 2004-5, the Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory relocated to a new building at the University of Liverpool. It is now part of the National Oceanography Centre.

Bidston Observatory was sold to a developer in 2015.

Next: The Lighthouse Previous: Sandstone Up: Heritage Trail

13 Responses to Bidston Observatory

  1. Ian Heath says:

    Hello.
    My sister EUNICE MURRELL (nee HEATH) worked at Bidston Observatory for many years and I know she had a lot of friends there. I am wondering if, through your site, it may be possible to contact anyof her past friends.
    Eunice passed away last week – 31st May – at home. If you know of any others who worked there maybe you would be so kind as to pass on the message.
    No funeral date has yet been set but the Co-operative Funeral Service on 0151-606 1369 will be able to provide details as they become available.
    Thank you so much.
    Yours faithfully

    Ian Heath

    • Judith Wolf says:

      Dear Ian
      I’m sorry to hear of Eunice’s death earlier this year. I was a colleague and friend although not especially close but I well remember her from my early days working at Bidston in 1976 till her retirement through ill health (I can’t remember which year that was). I don’t know how many of her ex-colleagues know but I will mention to those with whom I’m still in touch.
      Best wishes,
      Judith Wolf
      PS I’m now Head of Site for the National Oceanography Centre in Liverpool

  2. Judith Wolf says:

    One point of factual correction about the Josepth Proudman Building. I believe it was opened in 1975 and I went to work there in 1976, however it was not named until 1987 when a new Director, Brian McCartney, took over and we became the Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory.

  3. A L Lunt says:

    About 20 years ago, when I was investigating sea levels for a client, I visited the Proudman offices at Bidston. I remember that there was an elaborate mechanical tide calculator displayed, dating from the 19th century. May I ask how I may obtain details of this, which must rank as one of the earliest computers? Where is it now, and can it be viewed? Any information would be much appreciated.
    A L (Tony) Lunt CEng MRINA

  4. Joyce Scoffield says:

    Hello – I have just found your website.

    I had the privilege of attending Eunice Murrell’s funeral together with three of her former colleagues at the observatory. Audrey Barrow ( former receptionist at the observatory) knew Eunice very well and would have been at the funeral had she known about it in time.

    By the way, I wrote a history of the observatory (published in 2006) called Bidston Observatory – The Place and the People. You may have read it.

    • admin says:

      We highly recommend Joyce Scoffield’s book: “Bidston Observatory – The Place and the People”. It contains useful information on the Bidston Lighthouse and Signals too. You can still buy it on Amazon.

  5. Joyce Scoffield says:

    Many thanks for the recommendation.

  6. Patricia McDowell (Nee Mellor) says:

    I worked at Bidston Observatory from 1960 to 1965 as a University Technician. Along with ten or more other young women I worked on the Doodson Lege and Lege tide predicting machines and did the meteorological observations. We also fired the one o’clock gun (sent time signals to a man at the Alfred Dock who actually fired it). There was a great atmosphere of fellowship and I have several photos of us sunbathing on the roof, draped around the canon, and sitting on the step at lunch hour.

  7. Joan ritchie says:

    Hi could anyone tell me if you can still visit the observatory if so what are the times,also do they still have the telescope thank you .

  8. Joan ritchie says:

    Ok thank you , could you tell me the nearest observatory or anything to do with astronomy I could visit thank you .

  9. Bill Roberts says:

    I recently visited Bidston Hill and was shocked to see the poor state of the observatory and its surroundings. The building appears to be semi-derelict, part of the wall fronting the wood has disappeared, and the railings in front of the observatory have been removed. Is North Wirral such a poor area that the acquisition and proper maintenance of this iconic building cannot be afforded?
    Many years ago the fountain worked and the area near it was covered in heather. Now the fountain is rusty and incomplete and grass has replaced the heather. Is North Wirral such a poor area that the acquisition and maintenance of this iconic building cannot be afforded? I wonder how much per head of population it would cost.

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